Crafts apprenticeship and transmission of knowledge in Bronze Age flint working

EricsenAsymmetrical, bifacial sickles. Top: original Bronze Age artefact. Bottom: modern replica.
(Photo © Berit V. Eriksen)

An archaeological examination of lithic inventories from a number of Danish Bronze Age settlement sites provides the basis for a discussion of the role of flint craftsmanship in past metal using societies. One part of this project (in collaboration with Moiken Hinrichs M.A.) focuses on the production of so-called asymmetrical, bifacial sickles. More particularly, it will focus on “individual” flint knappers and their technological skills and knowledge and not least on the local and regional socio-economic tradition in which they took part. Ongoing contextual chaîne opératoire analyses of lithic inventories from Early Bronze Age settlement sites (1100-1500 calBC) in the region of Thy, Northwest Denmark indicate, as a rule, that bifacial and crude flake tools were produced by different flint knappers, i.e., flint knappers possessing highly different skills and abilities. Crude flake tools were produced ad hoc – by anybody, anywhere, anytime. The production of bifacial tools, in contrast, was generally characterized by a high degree of precision, control and anticipation of explicit intentions. Evidently, these tools were made by very skilled flint knappers. Contextual analyses of the lithic inventories indicate that these craftsmen were not always around. It is thus asserted that we may be dealing with the leftover lithics from journeymen who spent a part of the year visiting different farmsteads within a specific area offering their services as handymen. This project will serve as a basis for a general discussion of problems related to evidence of skill and learning processes in prehistoric lithic inventories.

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Project by Berit Valentin Eriksen
Scientific Director, Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology


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